Two weeks after taking office, President Bola Tinubu signed a bill establishing a standard retirement age for judges into law on Thursday.
It was the first bill that the President had ever signed, and he did it in the Council Chamber of the Presidential Villa in Abuja.
While the retirement age for Justices of the Appeal and Supreme Courts is currently set at 70, the constitutional bill aims to raise it to 70 for High Court Judges and others.
The proposed alteration was entitled ‘Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fifth Altercation) (No.37) Bill, 2023’.
The bill also seeks to ensure uniformity in the pension rights of judicial officers of “superior courts of record” specified in section 6(5) of the 1999 constitution (as amended).
The courts listed in section 6(5) are the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, Federal High Court, High Court of Abuja, High Courts of States, Sharia Court of Appeal, National Industrial Court, and Customary Courts of Appeal, among others.
This development comes a day after a report by TheCable said the immediate past Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, advised former President Muhammadu Buhari to decline assent to the bill.
In a memo dated May 23 and addressed to the office of the Chief of Staff to the President, Malami told Buhari that approval of the bill would create a “huge financial and unexpected burden” for the federal government.
The former minister said the bill appears to be “far-reaching, unduly wide, ambiguous”, adding that it made no “justification” for the extension of retirement age and benefits for judges.
Malami averred that the bill would lead to stagnation in the career growth of judges, adding that “those currently on the bench would have to stay longer, preventing others from being elevated in higher courts”.
The former AGF said the bill, if approved, may lead to further agitation for the extension of the retirement age of justices of the supreme court and Court of Appeal.
Malami added that the proposed alteration of the constitution also eliminated the “responsibility of states to pay these altered retirement benefits”.
He wrote: “Accordingly, the federal government enacted the Federal Judicial Officers (Administration of Pension) Act 2007, which transferred the responsibility and administration of pension of the federal judicial officers from the department of establishments in the office of the head of the service of the federation to the National Judicial Council.
“Similarly, State Governments are responsible for the pension of judicial officers in the state courts of record.
“These provisions are now being amended by the fifth alteration which now restricts the power of the federal government to make law with respect to Judicial Officers who retire after the age of 65.
“Regardless of extant economic realities of the federal government, by virtue of the fifth alteration, all judges who retire after attaining 65 years of age would be entitled to payment of their salaries for life, including all allowances in addition to any other benefit to which they may be entitled.
“By virtue of the constitution, the only persons entitled to payment of their last salaries for life as pension are the President, Vice-President and Justices of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal. In the case of the latter, it’s only applicable if the justices retire at or after the age of 65 and have spent not less than 15 years.”